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12-Year Study of CEO Schedules Reveals Executives Need to Improve Their Time Management

man sitting at desk surrounded by clocksman sitting at desk surrounded by clocks

CEOs don’t want for much. They have an abundance of resources, but are lacking in time to utilize them. In a 12-year study by Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria, the schedules of 27 CEOs were recorded and analyzed. The results, a look into time management at the top level of corporations, were published by the Harvard Business Review alongside advice for leaders on how to optimize their time and make their tough jobs just a bit easier.

What a CEO spends time on is indicative of their leadership style, their legitimacy and the performance of their organization. Thus, their schedule affects how they are seen within the organization. If they spend too much time deciding minutia, they will be seen as a micromanager, and if they do not spend enough time with others in the company, they will be seen as out of touch.

This study examined 2 women and 25 men from 2006 to 2018 and how they allocate their time at the helm of their large, complex companies. It recorded their lives in 15-minute increments (in- and outside of work), 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This led to in-depth results about how CEOs use their time.

On average, the CEOs participating in the study worked 9.7 hours per weekday and 62.5 hours per week. They also worked on the majority of their days off, on average 3.9 hours on weekend days and 2.4 hours on vacation days.

In their time off, the leaders had to prioritize health and family time. Many had workout regimens, which took up an average of 9% of their nonworking hours. In the six hours that they weren’t sleeping or working each day, about half of that was spent with family. 2.1 hours on average was spent on downtime.

The CEOs took 61% of their working hours to interact with others face-to-face, which the Harvard Business Review wrote is “the best way for CEOs to exercise influence, learn what’s really going on, and delegate to move forward the multiple agendas that must be advanced.”

The subjects spent 43% of their time, on average, on activities that advanced the agenda they set with the study at the beginning of each quarter. That percentage varied significantly between CEOs, though, and the ones that spent the most time advancing their agendas said they felt better about the use of their time.

About 36% of each leader’s time was spent reacting to issues throughout the day, both internal and external. An average of 11% of work time was spent attending to board meetings, earnings calls and other routine duties.

In any given week, these CEOs had 37 meetings that took up around 72% of their work time. The Harvard Business Review advises leaders to reassess the amount of time slotted for meetings to increase their efficiency, rather than allotting the standard one hour for each meeting. Each meeting should have a set agenda and attendees should come prepared, it wrote in response to its findings.